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October 11, 2009 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Help me learn to read French.

I've decided to knuckle down and make a serious attempt at learning some actual functional skills in written French. Most language textbooks that I've seen are less than engaging. I'd like to learn to read in French the same way I learned to read in English - starting with very simple books and working my way up.

What I would like is a list of fun, affordable, readily available children's books in French that would start at the "Green Eggs and Ham" level and work up to, say, Harry Potter. (Please indicate where any recommended books would fit along that progression.)

If anyone can recommend a particularly good French grammar book for reference, that would be useful as well.
posted by tdismukes to Education (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Bookmark the French wiktionary for starters. It's a lot less cumbersome than having a Petit Robert and a Bescherelle with you at all times, although those can be handy.

Since you are presumably an adult I'd suggest reading French media sites and bandes dessinées instead of starting with kids' books, as being more likely to engage your attention. Le Monde (France) and Cyberpresse (Quebec) might be a start.

Astérix and Tintin are always fun to read and will broaden your vocabulary painlessly. There are a ton of other graphic novels (the French are good at them) and the pictures clue you in about what's going on, which means excursions to the dictionnaire are seldom needed.

Do read Le Petit Prince though.
posted by zadcat at 9:29 AM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Le Petit Prince: middle-school language, so much better in the original French.
posted by djb at 9:31 AM on October 11, 2009

Comic Books. If you can't get good French ones (and there are a ton of good French ones), you can get reprints of American comics in French. knowing all the Calvin and Hobbes my heart made reading the french translations easier and helped me pick out exactly what was going on with the tenses and genders and the like.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 AM on October 11, 2009

Response by poster: On a related note, for learning the spoken language side of things, it seems that simple verse and song do a good job of sticking in the memory. I've forgotten most of the Russian I learned in high school, but I still remember the one nonsense children's rhyme I learned one day. Therefore, if anyone can recommend a source for French nursery rhymes or children's songs (with both audio and printed lyrics), I would appreciate that also.
posted by tdismukes at 9:35 AM on October 11, 2009

Response by poster: "Since you are presumably an adult I'd suggest reading French media sites and bandes dessinées instead of starting with kids' books, as being more likely to engage your attention. Le Monde (France) and Cyberpresse (Quebec) might be a start."

Once I get up to the point of being able to read newspapers, I definitely will. I need baby steps to get myself up to that point. In the meantime, I don't mind reading well-done children's books. Good storytelling is good storytelling, even if it's aimed at kids.

Is there anything like a French language equivalent of Dr. Seuss? I'd look for translations, but obviously the rhyme and meter that make his work so wonderful couldn't be preserved in another language.
posted by tdismukes at 9:44 AM on October 11, 2009

Not exactly what you're looking for but I taught myself to read French by using dual language books. They have the French on one page and the English on the facing page. If you search amazon for "dual language French English" you can look for one that interests you. I had one of fairy tales that I would recommend.
posted by entropyiswinning at 10:29 AM on October 11, 2009

there are a ton of good French [comics]

posted by IndigoJones at 10:36 AM on October 11, 2009


That said, wikipedia is a good resource to start with. Start reading articles in French about things you really know a lot about. Also, look for books you've already read in French translations, like in my case, Harry Potter.
posted by neewom at 11:04 AM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just want to mention that Asterix is more advanced that you think it will be. Petit Prince might even be easier, because there tend to be a lot of word games and puns in Asterix that are difficult for a beginner or intermediate level reader.
posted by ohio at 11:14 AM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I, too, went about picking up French by getting my feet wet on French kids' books before moving on to Le Monde. Once you get through picture books, you'll be ready for the Petit Nicolas' series. Each one is an anthology of short stories, so you can knock off a couple a day. They're witty. Illustrations are by the incomparable Sempe. The language is very much the way middle class French children and adults speak. The situations are really French and quite hilarious. There are about a dozen books in the series. Le Monde--zzzz-wasn't nearly as much fun, but you can work your way up to it. Bon chance!
posted by Elsie at 11:57 AM on October 11, 2009

Best answer: Children books are a good start.

If you're looking for vocabulary,etc (ie. not cultural context) start with translation of children books that you know/have - a good way to find those is to search for the author on amazon.fr and restrict to "livres en français". For example this or this.

Then you can move on to "Le petit nicolas" or belgian comics such as Boule & Bill or Gaston Lagaffe (easier to understand than Astérix & Tintin in my opinion)

Also : try some books are in bilingual edition (1-2-3)

For News : try reading Courrier International - they translate articles from all over the world, and you can browse by source: 1 - 2
posted by motdiem2 at 12:56 PM on October 11, 2009

Dittoing Petit Nicolas. I'm living in France, and it's my bedtime reading (there's also a new film out based on the series). You'll need a dictionary handy and a decent grasp of verb tenses, but the stories are pretty intuitive and clever, especially so considering they're written for children.
posted by nicoleincanada at 1:59 PM on October 11, 2009

Best answer: If you've mainly studied French in school, you're going to make the disagreeable discovery that the spoken language (reflected in comics and popular magazines) is quite different, with modified grammar and a truly imposing number of slang words.

So, run, do not walk, and pick up a copy of David Burke's Street French.
posted by zompist at 2:15 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Try YouTube for the songs if you want to watch instead of read for a bit. I'm starting to teach my toddler French and I'm quite taken with the T'choupi et Doudou cartoons. YouTube also has a few episodes of Parlez-Moi, sort of Canadian (used in my grade school French classes) kitsch, which may or may not help.

Grammar --> Bescherelle.
posted by kmennie at 4:30 PM on October 11, 2009

Yeah, my grama always told me that it was easiest to talk to children to learn french, but I found it was often more difficult - they didn't know exactly how to pronounce words, their grammer was horrible, they would often just make up words and they used a lot more slang. ditto for comic books.

What I found helped me most was reading mass market books that had been translated from English (a la John Grisham).

Also, Le petite prince. Really really really great book.
posted by bellbellbell at 6:57 PM on October 11, 2009

Normally I recommend Wordreference.com as a French-English dictionary. It seems to do a good job covering nuances. Larrouse.fr is a great French dictionary--if what you look up is a verb, you can hit the orange Conjugaison and flip through verb tenses.

If you've got a DVD collection, you could pick out some of your favourites (the ones you know really well and can quote from) and turn on the French subtitles.
posted by Decimask at 7:51 PM on October 11, 2009

(thanks, Whelk!)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:22 PM on October 12, 2009

Belatedly, another idea is to use Babelfish for translating French newspaper articles. It's cheating, but it can really help if you're stuck. I've also found it a surprisingly good way to translate turns of phrase, which can be difficult if you're relying on a dictionary and looking up single words.
posted by nicoleincanada at 9:49 AM on October 18, 2009

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